Video: Next generation of builders charting industry's future

SEATTLE - For every eight carpenters, plumbers or other building trade specialists who retire in Washington State, only one new, younger worker joins the industry.

A special classroom just south of Seattle is trying to do something about that.

The Construction Technology Course at the Puget Sound Skills Center is laying the foundation for the next generation of builders.

Eighteen-year-old Jordan Simpson is a student there. He is trying to line up a career in carpentry.

The houses he wants to build will be wired to the rafters with the latest technologies.

"I want to start putting that into more homes so people can control things from their cell phones and stuff," he said. "You could call into your cell phone, into your system and say, I want this music playing when I walk in, my lights to be this bright, I want my fireplace to start up when I walk in the door."

Technology is key to student William Pitts' future and the future homes he'll help build.

"I want to focus more on security though, that's my bread and butter," he said. "It's pretty much the art of keeping people out and I really enjoy it."

Instructor Ken Pierson spent 30 years in the building trades. He's now a construction technology teacher at the Puget Sound Skills Center, where 44 students from 20 area private and public high schools help chart the future of the building industry.

"That's the reason I got into it, to give back a little bit, but this has been so much more rewarding than I ever had in my wildest dreams," he said.

Pierson uses carpentry to help teach basic concepts in math, physics and chemistry. But his students are also teaching him about where the industry is heading.

"We're working towards more affordable housing and these young people really have that in the back of their minds," he said.

Student Rachel Lohkamp has helping out the environment on her mind.

"We definitely need to do more green building work, because I think that is something that would help out the world's condition a lot," she said. "Recycling material, first of all, making sure your home is energy efficient, not wasting a lot of energy."

Pierson sees plenty of energy and enthusiasm about revitalizing an industry that is losing more carpenters, plumbers and electricians each year to retirement.

On the way: A generation that grew up with computers and that's more comfortable with green building methods.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg, these young people are gonna think about things way beyond that, way beyond that," Pierson said.

Pierson says 20 percent of his students at the Puget Sound Skills Center go on to college.

A quarter of them enter apprenticeship programs, or two-year-colleges, and 20 percent will find jobs in the construction industry immediately after graduating from college.

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